by Sandra Murphy
This week we are reviewing Carlene O’Neil’s new book Ripe for Murder. We also have an interesting interview with Carlene. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of this book, along with a link to purchase it where a portion goes to help support KRL, and a link to buy it from Amazon.
Ripe for Murder by Carlene O’Neil
Review by Sandra Murphy
Penny Lively used to be a photojournalist, but she’s settled down to run her family’s winery with the help of Connor, the manager. She’s approached by a man who owns a small railroad line to invest in the form of property. The train will bring new visitors to the winery, hopefully they’ll buy wines they taste, and being on the train means there’s no risk of anyone driving drunk.
All the investors are invited to take a train ride to see how beautiful the restored Pullman cars are. Antonia is a distant relative of Penny’s and close neighbor with the winery next door. She’s invited along, of course, and decides to bring her youngest daughter, Chantal. Penny’s had history with her since Chantal stole Penny’s first crush in junior high. Chantal’s one of those women who just breathes and men flock around. Connor seems immune to her but Chantal is determined to change that.
Other passengers include Kim and Jim, a couple from Chicago who almost seem to be on a second honeymoon, Big Dave and Tara, his much younger wife, Dave’s son Vance, a tennis pro wanna-be, and Bill the host.
Tara seems to go out of her way to show everyone she’s in the money since marrying Dave. The train goes right through the town where she grew up, and she’s more than willing to rub their noses in her wealth. That includes Seth, her high school boyfriend and his wife, Barb. Tara says whatever comes into her little mind and offends most everyone. Still, they like Dave so they try to put up with her.
During the trip, the emergency cord is pulled and the train comes to a screeching halt. Penny is able to look out the back of the caboose and sees Tara’s body on the tracks. Since the safety gate was closed and locked, it seems like Tara had help disembarking.
Chantal was found in the caboose, knocked out from a head wound. Since she and Tara had been involved in a disagreement earlier (read cat fight), she’s an obvious suspect. Antonia knows her baby girl couldn’t have done this and encourages Penny to ask questions since she’s done this before.
Penny doesn’t have a lot more tact than Tara and isn’t afraid to go nose to nose with potential killers, much to Connor’s dismay. The question is—who had the opportunity and motive? Penny has a few close calls herself and then there’s another body. Is it a case of mistaken identity or did the victim know more than she let on?
There’s a lot of information about how wine is made and all about trains scattered throughout the book without distracting from the story. Potential romance comes in the form of Penny and Connor with Chantal’s interference of course and for Antonia and an old friend. I took a guess at the murderer and came close but was way off on the details.
This is the second in the Cypress Cove Mystery series. I look forward to the next one to see how Penny and Connor progress.
Interview with Carlene O’Neill:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Carlene: Years ago I managed to talk myself into a writing position at a small television station. At the time my verbal skills far outweighed my writing abilities. Working there gave me an opportunity to learn the craft of writing. Twelve years ago I got serious about writing fiction.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Carlene: My first novel, One Foot in the Grape, came out last May with Berkley. It is a traditional mystery set on a central California winery.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Carlene: I can’t imagine writing anything other than mysteries. I’m constantly thinking of what drives people to murder, but also what gives away a killer: Little things that get overlooked, the item out of place. I love it when the clues come together.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Carlene: When I decided to write a series, I selected a winery as the setting because, let’s be honest, I knew I would enjoy the research. The series takes place on a winery outside the fictional town of Cypress Cove, and if you’ve ever been to Carmel, California, you will recognize where I got my inspiration. I wanted a beautiful location because I think murder is more shocking in idyllic settings. For me the final requirement was that it needed to take place in a small town, because in small towns a murder impacts the entire community.
The series begins when my protagonist, Penny Lively, returns home to her family winery after a long career as a photojournalist. The curiosity that drove her success in that career has followed her into her new life as a winery owner, and she manages to find a body in the neighbor’s wine. Will she stay out of it? Not likely.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Carlene: I definitely write to entertain. There isn’t anything better than hearing a reader has enjoyed your novel. If readers are taking away something, I hope it’s that they like Penny. She has no special skills and yet she manages to get the job done. I’ve tried to make her someone that readers would consider for a friend. She knows the best dog is a rescue, a nice chardonnay tastes just as good from a jelly jar, and some days the best you can do is to get your hair pulled back and add a swipe of lipstick.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Carlene: I write when I can. If I write every day, even for half an hour, I keep the story going internally. For me, once I am in the seat the hard part is over. I allow myself to quit after half an hour, but I almost never do. Usually I write for one-hour stretches. If I keep to that schedule, as simplistic as it is, in nine months I have a draft of the novel.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Carlene: I do outline but I am constantly revising. My outlining isn’t anything fancy, just a big white board broken down into chapters. I use different post-it notes for each character, and move them around the board as the story progresses.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Carlene: I like mid-day, but, as with exercise, I’m more likely to keep to a schedule when I get it done first thing in the morning.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Carlene: I had 30 rejection letters from agents. Every one of them was tough to read, but I did take the comments to heart and I think the final book was better for it. I went to every writing conference I could, and continued to keep writing as I tried to find an agent. It eventually happened, and from there it was easier. She [the agent] was able to sell it to Berkley within six weeks. It sounds simple, but between writing the book and getting published, it took nearly ten years.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Carlene: I have three more books in the Cypress Cove mysteries series planned out. I also have a second series that I’ve started to outline. It takes place on Catalina Island.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Carlene: Agatha Christie. She did it first, she did it best. I also love Carolyn Hart. Her Death on Demand series is a lesson in how it’s done.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Carlene: Since my series is set on a winery, the research is pretty easy! Exploring the towns of Carmel and Monterey is also a plus. I’m certified to Level 2 from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, which I completed to help with my descriptions of life on a winery. I wanted the winery information to be as accurate as I knew how to make it, but not heavy in detail.
KRL: What do you read?
Carlene: The old classics. Right now I’m reading Catherine Aird, but I also have a stack of new releases. Currently it consists of Jenn McKinlay, Joanne Fluke, and Liz Mugavero.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Carlene: Castle, Midsomer Murders, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Also, I will stop anything for a Monk or Columbo marathon.
For movies, the Thin Man series, Notorious, Death on the Nile, Charade, and basically every movie starring Cary Grant.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Carlene: Go the conferences, keep writing, and incorporate the advice you receive from these sources, including feedback you receive from agents. Ultimately, though, you want to write the story you are compelled to write, because the voice that resonates with you will be what resonates with the audience.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Carlene: Keep writing. Tastes change, but mysteries will always have a market. The world needs its small victories, even if they are only on paper.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Carlene: I have my motorcycle license, which nobody can believe. I’m sort of a girlie girl.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Ripe for Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “ripe,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 26, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
You can use this link to order this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & Mysterious Galaxy: